Sleep Paralysis

Medically Reviewed on 8/1/2023

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep Paralysis
Unfortunately, there is no prescribed way to snap out of sleep paralysis.

Have you ever had an experience during the early hours of the morning when you just woke up and found yourself unable to speak or move? 

There may be other sensations along with this brief “paralytic” experience like spotting a scary creature near you, hearing strange sounds, or smelling weird odors. This frightening experience lasts for no more than a few minutes, after which you can move and speak. If yes, then what you experienced is called sleep paralysis. 

Sleep paralysis is the complete inability to move for one or two minutes immediately after awakening. Episodes of sleep paralysis can be alarming because the immobility may be accompanied by hallucinations (strange smells or images) or a sensation of suffocation. The feeling of suffocation may be related to a slight reduction in lung capacity to exchange gases. 

Sleep paralysis is a type of sleep disorder that typically occurs when you are either falling asleep or waking up. During both of these times, you are in a stage of sleep where although your eyes are closed but moving in all directions. This is REM or rapid eye movement sleep and your muscles are relaxed at this time. 

What causes sleep paralysis?

The reasons behind why and how sleep paralysis occurs are not well understood. Researchers say that sleep paralysis occurs due to interruptions in the REM sleep cycles.

Anybody can get sleep paralysis; however, some conditions may make a person more prone, such as:

  • Narcolepsy (a sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and sudden loss of muscle control)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Family history of sleep paralysis
  • Disrupted sleeping pattern (shift work or jet lag)

Do you hallucinate during sleep paralysis?

Some people may experience hallucinations during sleep paralysis. The hallucinations may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Researchers suggest that the cause of these hallucinations may be a transient and harmless neurological disturbance. 

The hallucinations can include:

  • A fearful apprehension (feeling that something bad will happen)
  • A sensation that someone is in the bedroom
  • Feeling that someone or something is there on your chest or choking you
  • Spotting a “demon in the room:” An image of a frightening creature like a ghost, monster, witch, or demon near you


Why do we sleep? See Answer

Do you need to see a doctor for sleep paralysis?

Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is fairly common. It should not affect your sleep or health. Talk to your doctor if episodes of sleep paralysis make you anxious. You should see a sleep specialist if the episodes keep you up at night or make you feel tired in the daytime. Treatment of sleep paralysis is aimed at its root cause.

  • Sleep deprivation may trigger sleep paralysis. Getting at least six to eight hours of sleep per night may help.
  • People with psychiatric issues may suffer from sleep paralysis. An example is someone who has bipolar disorder. This person would need to be treated for bipolar disorder treatment with medication. 
  • People with narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) often have sleep paralysis. They need antidepressant medication to reduce or eliminate dream sleep. Taking an antidepressant drug does not mean that you are depressed. It is simply a method to help reduce sleep paralysis.

How do you get out of sleep paralysis?

Unfortunately, there is no prescribed way to snap out of sleep paralysis. You need to remember, however, that the condition is transient and you will be out of the experience within a few seconds. You can try to remind yourself that it is a harmless experience and focus on some good memory or a small prayer that calms you.

How can you prevent sleep paralysis?

You can, however, prevent the episodes of sleep paralysis in the following ways:

  • Manage stress using meditation/yoga/listening to calming music
  • Do regular exercise, but avoid exercising right before bedtime
  • Practice a regular schedule of going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day
  • Avoid sleeping on your back as it has been linked to the condition
  • If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, take help from a health professional
  • Avoid taking naps
Medically Reviewed on 8/1/2023